Monday, April 23, 2018

Morgan L. Busse's "Tainted" - a steampunk Christian fantasy

Tainted (Soul Chronicles, #1)
Kat Bloodmayne is one of the first women chosen to attend the Tower Academy of Sciences, but she carries a secret: she can twist the natural laws of science. She has no idea where this ability came from, only that every time she loses control and unleashes this power, it kills a part of her soul. Afraid for her life, Kat turns to bounty hunter Stephen Grey for help finding a doctor who can cure her. But what they discover on the way goes beyond science and into the dark sphere of magic.

I think one of the hardest genres of Christian fiction to write is fantasy; sometimes you wouldn't know it's christian save for the story's clean, more conservative morals, whereas other times Christianity is squeezed into a fantastical setting (with varying degrees of success), while still other times the allegory is thick enough to cut with a knife (cough cough, CS Lewis). I wasn't sure what to expect from this steam-punk world, but I think the author did a good job finding a way to insert faith into her story. Science rules the day (not so unlike today), but Kat's condition makes her question science's stand that there is no spiritual side to life; when she uses her [admittedly dark] powers, she can feel the damage to her soul.

I enjoy the world-building; it's definitely steampunk, with an emphasis on clockwork and steam, mad scientists, and modified Victorian styles, but there is also a bit of a western feel (with his duster and twin pistols, Stephen strikes me as the perfect old west bounty hunter). We've got a touch of conspiracy and corruption, war in the background, hints at privateers in the sky--plenty for the author to expand on in future books!

Stephen does something that I never expected him to do (can't go into it further without spoilers). But after setting aside my emotional upheaval, my detached, story-evaluating side pointed out that it was a great plot twist that will have consequences in the book(s) to come.  It reminded me of my favorite aspect of the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

This is definitely book 1 of a series; I'm glad I have book 2 handy to start right away. Not that it ends on a cliff-hanger (don't worry, they make it into the airship!), but it is only the beginning of the story. I'm always one for enjoying long books, so I would have enjoyed it if the beginning (Kat's two years in school) had been expanded more, but on the other hand, all the action is post-school . . .  so maybe the author chose rightly.

In any case, I am definitely going to check out other books by the author!

The Soul Chronicles
1. Tainted
2. Awakened

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Then There Was You" by Kara Isaac

Then There Was YouUpon seeing her dead-end relationship for what it is, cautious Paige McAllister throws caution to the wind and flies off to Australia for a year to build up her resume. The job she finds will look great and offer a challenge, but Paige's previous experience with the hypocrisy and corruption of a mega church mean she's keeping an eye out for more of the same. Josh Tyler, world-famous worship leader, has suffered from disastrous relationships before, and he has no intention of involving himself with the American working in the office. But when Josh and Paige are thrown together to organize his next tour, Josh discovers that she isn't what he thought--and Paige learns he may not be the arrogant jerk he seemed. But is it enough to build a relationship on, or are their differences too great?

I have to admit, it wasn't the description that convinced me to read this book. I read it on the strength of the author's other two novels, which, being themed on the Inklings, were more my thing than a mega church and famous worship band leader (I am a small-town girl, and I can recognize my prejudices). But I'm glad I did read it. I thought the author dealt with the mega church well, showing where such things can go wrong, but also demonstrating what good such an institution can do when their focus is where it needs to be--on Jesus. The struggles of the church were very real, and really, the same as any small church--just on a much grander and more public scale. It doesn't leave me wanting to trade in my small-town church, but it does give me a better understanding of how a mega church works.

And, as I anticipated (having experienced the author's other two novels), this one still captured her trademark humor--cute, romantic comedy-esque scenes, to make the reader smile--before hitting the reader upside the head with raw emotion and significant depth. Believe me, the story packs an emotional punch, and this coming from someone who has lived a relatively safe and sheltered life; I can only imagine how it would affect me if I'd been through anything like Paige.

I love how the author balances the story so that it's light yet deeply meaningful, uplifting yet impacting at the same time. It's a well-crafted story.

*Only complaint: I think pregnant Emily should have been compared to Violet Beauregarde rather than Veruca Salt (pg. 45), as Violet is the one who expands into a giant blueberry. Unless there is another Veruca Salt that I don't know about.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Nancy Mehl's "Blind Betrayal"

Blind Betrayal (Defenders of Justice #3)U.S. Marshal Casey Quinn and her partner are in charge of delivering an important witness to testify before Grand Jury in Washington DC--along with a Marshal from her past. When a bomb destroys the marshals' St Louis office, Casey and her colleagues are running blind, and it becomes dangerously clear that there is more to the witness's story than they realized . . .

I enjoyed getting to see the old Marshals crowd from previous books in the series. Given that the scope of the danger in this story was far more than Casey and EJ could have handled by themselves, I liked how the author kept it realistic and had the Marshals, FBI, and local Law Enforcement all working together against the threat. I also enjoyed that the author threw in a few red herrings that actually offered a few moments of relief from the intense action (just the calm before the storm, however . . .). It's an intense, complex, fast-paced suspense.

The witness herself proved more complex than I expected, and I appreciated that protecting her was always the first thing on the marshals' minds, even though they were battling personal relationship issues, not to mention not knowing the fate of their friends and coworkers at the bombed Marshals Office. She seemed very real in her reactions and feelings.

Thank you Bethany house and NetGalley for the complimentary e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Defenders of Justice
1. Fatal Frost
2. Dark Deception
3. Blind Betrayal

Monday, April 9, 2018

"The Weaver's Daughter" by Sarah E Ladd

The Weaver's DaughterHenry Stockton returns home from three years of war intending to continue his grandfather's woolen mill. Kate Dearborne, daughter of one of the local weavers who are slowly being putting out of business, knows to shun the Stocktons, just like the rest of the weavers, but she refuses to shun her own brother who works for them. When an accident sends her into the Stockton home, she sees a side of Henry very different from that of his harsh grandfather, and a spark of respect is born. But as tension between the weavers and the mill threatens to explode into violence, will both Henry and Kate choose to do what is best for the village, or for their families?

The history behind the story is fascinating; it puts a different meaning to the Industrial Revolution--maybe not to compare with the French or American or Russian Revolutions, but bloody just the same. I never thought about how the skilled workers would react as they were put out of their jobs by machines, not when their options were so limited.

The romance is a cross between Romeo and Juliet and North and South, but with some twists. I really appreciated how their relationship develops: the journey from enmity (at least on her part) to respect to friendship, which all happens well before romance comes into play. Both are thinking of what would be best for the people of their village, but I especially love Henry's sense of honor. He isn't a doormat, but he's a good man; better than others in the village who complain about the evils of the mills and refuse to give them business that would help the innocents of the village in clear, tangible ways.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Friday, April 6, 2018

"A Borrowed Dream" by Amanda Cabot

A Borrowed Dream (Cimarron Creek Trilogy #2)Austin Goddard and his daughter fled Philadelphia and didn't stop running until they landed in Cimarron Creek, where he is working as a rancher and hiding his profession as a doctor. Schoolteacher Catherine Whitfield has despised doctors since the local leech bled her mother to death, but she finds joy in helping her students--especially the new, melancholy Hannah Goddard. While trying to draw Hannah out of her depression, she comes to know the girl's father and appreciate his friendship, as he does hers. But it becomes harder and harder for him to hide his doctoring skills, and he fears the trouble he could bring down on the them all if word gets out . . .

I enjoyed the way the author is able to weave plot and subplots together so that they're all integral to the story. I greatly appreciated the maturity the characters display; the author does a good job of paving the way for them to accept hard truths with grace. For example, in the inevitable revelation of Austin's true profession, Catherine doesn't run in fear and loathing, but has already started accepting that there may be other doctors more respectable and competent than the local leech--they can't all be bad. It is far from the only example of characters slowly growing over the course of the story so that when confronted with something that could have been crippling at the beginning of the story, they can deal with it because God has been working in them to get them through.

It's fun learning something new in anything I read, and this time it was the ancientness of plastic surgery--even the name for it is much older than I would have expected. Knowing the author to be good about ensuring her historical details are authentic, I suspected it must be the case when the term and practice came up in the story, but her author's note at the end confirmed it, with even more detail. Who'd have thought? I loved the role it played in the story, both its use for good, and the enterprising criminal who sought to take advantage of it.

Another sweet love story!

Thank you Revell and NetGalley for a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Cimarron Creek
1. A Stolen Heart
2. A Borrowed Dream

Monday, April 2, 2018

NEW Christian Fiction releases April 2018!

Some new releases coming out this April:
The Pirate Bride (Daughters of the Mayflower #2) The Weaver's Daughter The Accidental Guardian (High Sierra Sweethearts, #1)
The Pirate Bride by Kathleen Y'Barbo (Barbour); Daughters of the Mayflower, book 2

A former privateer and a desperate heiress join forces to find her late father's lost treasure.

The Weaver's Daughter by Sarah E. Ladd (Thomas Nelson)

A weaver's daughter and the owner of a modernized woolen mill clash over their competing professions, yet they must find a way to make peace for the sake of their families and village.

Blind Betrayal (Defenders of Justice #3)The Accidental Guardian by Mary Connealy (Bethany House); High Sierra Sweethearts, book 1

The self-appointed guardian of the wagon trail finds the ruins of a wagon train with only a woman and a few children for survivors--and an attacker intent on silencing the remaining witnesses.

Blind Betrayal by Nancy Mehl (Bethany House); Defenders of Justice, book 3

When a US Marshall is tasked with escorting a reporter to testify before a grand jury, the routine assignment takes a dangerous turn, making it clear there is more to the story than anyone knows.

Friday, March 30, 2018

"The Pirate Bride" by Kathleen Y'Barbo

The Pirate Bride (Daughters of the Mayflower #2)When 12-year-old Maribel Cordova's father is killed when their ship is taken by privateers, she embraces life with the privateers, until she ends up entrusted to an island convent. Years later, an emissary from her family arrives, seeking to reunite her with her mother in New Orleans. But not all is right in New Orleans, and the reappearance of a certain privateer from her youth

There are very few pirate--I mean, privateering--novels in the Christian market, so this was a fun change-up. It reminded me of (and made me want to reread) such swashbuckling classics as Captain Blood and The Black Swan by Rafael Sabatini. I enjoyed Maribel's precocious nature and love of books and high places (having frequently partaken of such pleasures myself, in my youth).

I was surprised by a number of turns the story took. I should have seen the romance coming sooner (more careful attention to the book blurb would have done that for me), but other twists were genuinely surprising. I think the story could have benefited from being longer (especially having Maribel and Jean-Luc spend more time together as adults, as that would make the romance a little more believable), but it's a fun romp.

Thank you Barbour and NetGalley for the free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Daughters of the Mayflower
1. The Mayflower Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse
2. The Pirate Bride by Kathleen Y'Barbo
3. The Captured Bride by Michelle Griep
4. The Patriot Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse
5. The Cumberland Bride by Shannon McNear
6. The Liberty Bride by MaryLu Tyndall